Maya Gabeira is the proud owner of a Guinness World Record for the biggest wave ever surfed by a woman. As is the case with most Guinness World Records, it was not an easy road, but Maya’s road was a little rougher than usual.
On October 28, 2013, Maya Gabeira nearly died at Nazaré while surfing the massive waves churned up by St. Jude’s Storm. Five years later, she was awarded a Guinness World Record for the biggest wave ever surfed by a woman, and she surfed that wave at the same place that almost killed her. The record-breaking wave, which she rode in January of 2018, was officially measured at 20.72 meters, or 68 feet.
After she almost died in 2013, Maya faced a host of critics — most notably Laird Hamilton — many of whom were of the opinion that she shouldn’t have been surfing that day. Much of the criticism was chalked up to sexism, Laird’s included. Laird, though, took issue with that distinction. “I think whatever I said, I’d say again,” he remembered about the debacle in May of 2014. “I think people misinterpreted what I said. People obviously don’t know me if they think I was talking about women. I have a lot of respect for women. My wife is a professional athlete, and if Maya had the skill and the experience to be out there in that situation and not be a liability to herself or to someone else, then I would have nothing to say.”
Her record-breaking wave, however, also came with a particular set of challenges. After years of painful rehab and training, and despite video evidence and an expert at the University of Lisbon measuring the wave and confirming that yes, it was indeed a world record, no one seemed to care. Maya was determined to take credit where credit was due, so she made the decision to take what was rightfully hers.
She claimed that the Guinness Book of World Records required that the World Surf League certify her wave before they would consider it. She flew to Los Angeles to the WSL offices, where, according to her, “they promised to support a world record for women.” Then, months of silence. Gabeira felt ignored, and she was livid. “Many months later, there appears to be no progress and my emails have gone unanswered,” she wrote. “I’m not sure what’s going on, (but there are definitely some people who don’t like the idea of women surfing the biggest waves.) Anyways, perhaps I haven’t been able to scream loud enough?” She started a petition that was signed by nearly 20,000 people.
It worked. Recently, Maya Gabeira sat down with the World Surf League to talk about paving the way for other female surfers, setting a world record, and putting surfing under a microscope, which you can hear above.
See more from the World Surf League here.